Beyond the procession, speeches and display of camaraderie which sections of organized labour might have embarked upon, there is an urgent need to explore fresh remedies to tackle perennial workers’ problems. Over the years, these problems have grown worse, gravely affecting workers’ wellbeing.
Directly, workers’ predicament in this country is the effect of government’s ineptitude to the sacred duty of governance. At all levels, those at the helm of affairs have failed to enact workers’ oriented policy and programme. Worse, they have misappropriated public funds that should have been used to alleviate workers’ sufferings.
These lapses, which government appears incompetent or unwilling to redress, have degenerated into series of economic and social woes, the brunt of which Nigerian workers bear.
Since the democratic experience that started in 1999, government has been largely ineffective, a situation compounded by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s illness that suddenly saw him taken to Saudi Arabia for treatment. More than five months after, no one in the country has come out to inform the populace of the exact condition of the president.
Instead, the political elite embarked on games with the president’s health, neglecting in the process to follow constitutional provisions governing the circumstances the country found itself. It took more than three months for the National Assembly to employ ‘political expediency’ to wriggle out of the crisis, in the absence of a notice of incapacitation by the president, which would have promptly enabled the vice president to be sworn in and thus carry on the mantle of leadership.
Just as the polity began to witness a semblance of normalcy, politicians again threw caution to the wind and started campaigning for the general elections slated for next year. The reality now is that apart from time constraint, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan is politically distracted from implementing measures to lift Nigerian workers.
We must all lament the worsening national economy, which again has impacted adversely on workers and their dependants. Salaries are poor where they are paid at all. It is not uncommon for work places to owe workers up to six months salary. Subsequently, living standards and morale are low, along of course, with low productivity.
On their part, industries blame their under capacity to harsh business environment, featuring huge capital outlay, and low returns. Constant power outage and gross inefficiency in providing public electricity have all but extinguished hope of recovery. In effect, industries that relocated to other countries with more tolerable conditions have not considered returning.
To further underline the absence of political integrity in the handling of workers’ affairs, the federal government has not been able to resuscitate the textile industry, which traditionally was about the largest single source of employment. This is despite the promise of N75 billion bailout the government made, clearly more than a year ago. Observers have taken this official indolence as a manifestation of the absence of definite economic policy to steer workers and the industry.
Added to this lethargy is the government imposition of multiple taxes and levies on workers, including small and medium scale industries that otherwise could provide jobs. Some states are guiltier of this than others, but it shows a lack of sensitivity to workers’ plight. In Lagos State for instance, small operators in the food and drink service sector are being threatened out of existence by taxes being imposed on the entertainment industries.
There is a need to revisit these taxes, harmonise them and make them realistic to prevailing economic recession. A regime desperate to tax citizens as a revenue-making venture, without sincerely alluding to the hard times they are going through, is antithetical of job creation.
The organized labour should use the opportunity of their anniversary to re-examine workers demand for higher wages. While the per capita income of the average worker is admittedly below the par of internationally approved wages, there is need to safeguard the gains of higher wages from being eroded by inflation.
In this regard, workers should explore with their employers and government deals, capable of meeting their requirement on housing, health, education of their wards and public transportation. These factors, as well as food, constitute the core of issues that directly affect workers’ living condition.
As workers bask in the spirit of solidarity, they should pressurise government to provide security of lives and property, against the backdrop of cases of murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, religious or ethnic strife and sheer banditry in all parts of the country. These have direct bearing on worker’s productivity.
In particular, there is need for concerted action against the wagers of war against journalists, as depicted in the recent spate of killing, harassment, intimidation and threats unleashed on them across the country. Journalists should be appreciated for performing constitutional duties of imparting information, and thereby guaranteeing the freedom of expression entrenched in the fundamental rights section of the constitution.
Besides, the workplace environment is still hazardous for most other workers, who are cheated and violated at will, again in the absence of strict official monitoring. Nigerian workers are still subjected to dehumanising working condition including casualisation, and pay that is less than a living wage.
Workers can no longer rely on politicians and government officials to steer them into safety and prosperity. They should use this occasion therefore to ponder on problems affecting them, with a view to finding lasting solution and restoring hope for workers.